How to Deal with Ill-fitting Shoes

how to fix shoes that dont fit

Now. The best way to deal with ill-fitting shoes is never to buy them to begin with. But there are many reasons why they might sneak into our wardrobes: They feel fine at the store, they feel fine for the first few wearings, they change shape slightly after the first few wearings, our feet swell, they were gifts, they were shot-in-the-dark eBay purchases. (That last one applies to my Faryl Robin Suzus, pictured above.) So, should you find yourself with a pinchy, wobbly, or otherwise ill-fitting pair, here are some of the most common solutions:

Too tight

Stretch them: I learned from Audi that most shoes that feel a bit too snug can be stretched. I own the same kit of tools that she recommends – the Foot Fitter Pro and stretching spray – and have had some success adjusting my own shoes. I’d say the best thing about this method is that many shoe stretching kits, including the Foot Fitter Pro, include attachments that allow you to stretch shoes to accommodate sore spots, bunions, and corns.

Have them stretched: If you’d rather leave it to the pros due to delicacy, impatience, or just wanting the job done right, you can take your shoes to the cobbler for stretching. It’ll set you back $10 to $15 per pair, and generally takes about a week. I’ve also had some success with this method, though I’ll admit that neither struck me as 100% effective.

Reserve for winter wear: This will only work for shoes that are just a hair too tight. Most folks experience some foot swelling during the warm summer months. Your feet won’t shrink a half-size come winter, but they’ll be a bit smaller. Some shoes may slip on easier during cool weather.

Too loose

Insoles: Oh, there’s a whole world of inserts out there, my friends. My dad and several buddies swear by Superfeet Insoles which are ghastly expensive but top-of-the line for comfort. Naturally, the best plan is to spring for one pair or insoles and swap them in and out of several pairs of shoes. I’m perfectly happy with the cheapo versions in most cases, since I don’t get a lot of foot pain in addition to fit issues. Dr. Scholl’s Air Pillos are my go-tos, though I spring for the slightly more expensive gel Open Shoe Insoles when I need to. They will make the toebox of most pumps feel a bit snug, but also decrease slippage and make loose shoes fit better overall. Inserts work best if a shoe is big everywhere.

Ball of foot pads: I’ve found these to be incredibly helpful in heels that are just slightly too big, but that pinch uncomfortably when an insole is added. I’ve found Foot Petals Tip/Toes Cushions to be the best. They keep my feet from sliding down into the toe box, which then keeps my heel in place.

Heel grips: Honestly? These have never, ever worked for me. I’m including them here because they’ve been manufactured for so long they MUST work wonders for some folks. I’ve used the Kiwi versions, and they do make loose shoes tighter … but they also create blisters within an hour of insertion.

Pinchy

Moleskin: Those moles. They must be really fun to rub if we’ve named a fabric, a set of journals, AND a type of foot-pain shield for their skins. This particular kind of moleskin is basically felt with an adhesive back. Once you’ve determined where you’re gonna get pinched, you cut it to size, slap it onto your foot, and slide that foot back into its shoe. The moleskin protects your foot from pinching, and since it adds some bulk to that area of your foot it also helps stretch the shoe to fit.

Stretch them: As I mentioned above, the home stretching kits include attachments for custom fitting. If a certain pair pinches in a certain spot, you can target and stretch!

Rubby

Blister block: This is just about the only solution I know of for shoes that rub, and I haven’t found it to be foolproof. Blister block is a stick of slippery stuff that you rub on your feet to ease up on the friction created by rubby/slippy shoes. It’s easy to apply and does help in some situations, but I’ve been loathe to use it when wearing fabric, suede, or delicate shoes even though it claims to be safe. Also, amusingly, it shares its main ingredients with shortening. Hah.

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  • Carbon Girl

    I have always used moleskin for blister prone areas (aka “hotspots”). I stick it on my foot and the soft felt reduces friction with the shoe, so no blisters!

    My biggest fit problem was not addressed and I am curious what suggestions others may have. I cannot wear ballet flats for more than an hour without the area in front of my big toe on the top of my foot getting horrendously pinched/squished. It seems my feet are too tall for these types of shoes. Anyone have similar problems? Any suggestions?

    • Linda

      I have the same problem – it’s like my toes are too thick or something. I can wear 5 inch heels but not ballet flats. Sorry, I haven’t found a solution, although I have a couple pair in fabric materials that have enough give to be ok for me. One is by Jessica Simpson and the other Sam Edelman. Leather ballet flats, though – owie.

    • Lydia

      I had this problem, and still do with any flats. What actually caused it in my case was high arches. The flat shoe actually places lots of strain on the toes and the ball fo the foot; in addition, many flats have very small toe boxes on the shoe. By elevating the arch, the toe lands ‘properly’ on the surface when you walk, thus relieving the pressure (in my case).

      I solved my issue with a custom orthodic, but the doctor said that it is better to wear a lower heel (1/2 and inch to one and a half inches), than a flat. In fact, I only wear the orthodic with a flat, and it is really hard to find flats where the orthodic will fit (small toe box again!). I wear the orthodic with shoes like walking shoes, and my sketchers.

  • Linda

    Stick deodorant works about as well as Blister Block in my experience. It’s a lot cheaper and you probably already have some.

    Glad it’s not just me with the heel grips. I thought I must be sticking them in the wrong spot or something. I will now go rip them out as a hopeless case.

    • Lady Harriet

      Linda is right, deodorant works quite well for preventing blisters!

  • Susan

    I keep my shoes for years and years and years …and, Sal is right, sometimes they do change shape. I am absolutely wedded to Taccos — they are German made, leather insoles that come in full and half lengths and with or without arch support. They are absolutely wonderful (and, a boon, since I won’t wear hose in the summer … they save the insides of my shoes). I agree with Sal that the heel grips don’t work. I just tried the padded foot pads from Tacco on a beautiful little pair of European shoes that had started to slip and, voila — perfect and no heel slippage. For the shoes that are a little tight (I’ve got some of those ebay purchases, too), heat them up a little with your blow dryer before putting them on… it softens the leather and helps them to stretch a little naturally to fit your foot. Has worked for me with suede and patent leather.

  • kb

    I love the heel pads(I think this is what you’re calling heel grips)-partially because my heels seem to be narrower than my toes. They save me blisters within an hour (more like 10 min) of inserting. But different feet need different pads.

  • Consignment sale. I’ve only ever had a couple of pairs of ill-fitting shoes that any amount of messing around was able to save.

    The pair I’m wearing here did become less pinchy after I stretched them, but they’re soft leather and time might have done the same trick. I still don’t quite trust them though.

  • I will put on thick athletic socks with a pair of too-tight heels or flats, and wear them like that while getting ready in the morning. Not the most comfortable option, but by the time I’m ready to head out the door the socks have done their work and usually the shoes will be more comfortable thereafter.

    My late grandmother had slightly wider feet than me and she offered her services as a shoe-stretcher for me when I was in high school. Probably not a realistic solution for many, but it is a sweet memory of my grandma for me to reflect on.

    • Mel

      Aw….isn’t that sweet. Made me smile.

  • Aimee

    OMG – I am right there with you on the heel grips. I have tried every type out there and they always move around and just generally drive me crazy. My tip for shoes that are a little large in the front/want-to-keep-your-foot-from-sliding-forward on closed-toe shoes is lambswool. I stuff some in the front of the toe box and it cushions my toes and keeps my foot where I want it.

  • I love, love, love the Dr. Scholls high heel insoles. They are $10/pair but you can move them in and out of different shoes fairly easily. They have an arch support are make heels much comfier.

    I have had the worst luck in the last few purchases of buying rubby sandals. I bought a pair of Aerosoles sandals (supposed to by comfy right??) and I had blisters from the straps within an hour of wearing them. That was from hardly walking anywhere, too! Now I do a lot of walking around the house to see if they are okay or not. I actually took a pair to a quick trip to Costco and was in pain by the time I left. I washed them off and put them back in the box and returned them. I am so over buying shoes that hurt your feet! Can’t they test them or something??

  • Aziraphale

    Until fairly recently, I haven’t had much trouble with ill-fitting shoes. Shoes tend to rub for the first wearing and then that’s it. But in the past three years or so I started buying high heeled pumps, and with those, fit is trickier. There’s no strap to help hold them on. I find they have to fit quite tight at first, because nice leather will inevitably stretch out, and slightly-too-loose high heels drive me bonkers. Plus there’s the problem of one foot being slightly smaller than the other one, so what’s a perfect fit on my left foot is a shade too big on my right.
    I use one of two strategies: either I spray on the shoe-stretching solution, put on a pair of socks, jam my feet into them and walk around in pain for three hours, or I take them back to the store and get them to stretch the shoes out for me. Option one is unfortunately painful but works way better, because the shoes will mold to my feet. The second option sometimes results in overstretching a pair.
    As for too-big shoes, I totally agree with you about the heel pads. They simply don’t work for me. A ball of foot pad does, though.

  • Okay, I am admitting to cutting my shoes!

    I have really narrow heels and they’re bony back there too. Sometimes I get horrible rubbing right on the bone and nothing makes it better….so I’ve very carefully cut my shoes. I show in this post (http://sheilaephemera.blogspot.ca/2011/01/weekend-outfits-fuschia-and-skulls.html – scroll down a bit) how I have done it on a pair of leather kitten heels. It made them just perfect – well, aside from the cuts. Those won’t be going back to the consignment store when I’m done with them!

    I do NOT recommend doing this to your shoes unless you want to risk losing a pair altogether – I have done it on a pair of shoes and cut too deeply, ruining them.

    • Sal

      Sheila, so BRAVE! But ya know, when you find something that works, it can be indescribably helpful.

  • Kylara7

    I always get “sandal blisters” when warm weather starts and all those straps and flip-flip straps start rubbing in new and often sweaty areas. I’ve started to just tape or band-aid the places where it’s going to rub to prevent the blisters until my feet toughen up in those areas; this comes from my dance experience primarily. Plain old masking tape or painting tape is great for blister/rubbing preventing…it has just enough stick to stay in place but not so much that it’s painful to remove and doesn’t leave sticky residue on your skin. It’s also super cheap and very thin.

    • Chris Bulin

      I have done tape before and felt like such a DIY podiatrist when I did it, that I hadn’t tried again. For anyone paying money for “shoe stretching spray” try mixing a small spray bottle half with water and half with rubbing alcohol. Really cheap and works well in my experience.

  • michelle

    I have the same problem with ballet flats pinching the top of my foot, and have found that a ballet flat-style shoe with a slight heel works best – also, Me Too ballet flats are pretty squishy and comfy. My use of moleskin is a little different from others, it seems – I stick it right on the shoe!

    • I use moleskin in the same way, you stick it to the shoe and it will protect your feet and if do it carefully, no one will notice it! And a quick fix for a blister, get a band aid and apply it to the inside of the shoe, it will last longer that if you put it on your foot, specially in warm weather! ;P

  • poodletail

    Another ‘thumbs up’ from me for Foot Petals. I don’t often wear sky-high heels any more but these dandies allow me to walk gracefully in spikes, as if I wear them every day.

    P.S. “Those moles!” Heeeeee, Sal. You know I cherish your writing about creatures.

  • Kenzie

    It’s not very precise, but I stretched a pair of flats a half size bigger by putting gallon baggies of water in them and freezing them because liquid expands when it solidifies. You gotta wear the shoes right after they come out of the freeze though otherwise they shrink back down.

    Hell yeah science.

    • Sal

      LOVE that, Kenzie!

  • Vildy

    Here’s how the back of the heel pads do work:
    place them instead right under the top edge of the toe box, lined up. I use ones
    from Payless that are slightly spongy. They keep shoes on that are slightly
    too big and stop your foot from sliding forward.

  • Colleen

    This product is a miracle for everything:

    http://www.amazon.com/Monistat-Soothing-Chafing-Powder-Gel-1-5-Ounce/dp/B0012ZNSWE

    It’s silicone based and creates a slippery surface, so it’s great for blistery spots. Oh and did I mention it’s got the same base ingredient as all those expensive makeup primers you buy at Sephora for 4X the price?

    You’re welcome.

  • I have fat feet that aren’t quite fat enough to always require wide-width shoes, so I invested in my own shoe stretcher.

    The other thing about reserving shoes for winter-wear is that you can wear them with tights, which solves a lot of rubbing problems. (I am in the no-nylons-ever camp.)

    A tip I got from a friend is clear first-aid tape. I keep a roll in my sock drawer, and a roll in my desk at work. It is perfect for protecting skin if your shoes rub without looking as obvious as a Band-Aid.

  • LinB

    Moleskin is useful in medical and scientific situations because the hair on the skin has no nap. You can rub it in any direction and it will lie smooth and flat. Northern peoples use wolf fur around the face openings in their parkas because their breath will not freeze and condense on wolf fur.

  • emily

    I’m one of those people for whom heel grips are a necessity. My right foot is about 1/2 a size bigger than my left foot. Not being independently wealthy, I don’t want to buy 2 pairs of shoes. So I have these heel grips in nearly every flat and pump I own. It’s not a perfect solution, but I don’t get blisters with them & it keeps one shoe from flopping on & off my heel (which causes monster blisters).

  • I have wide feet with narrow heels, & I put heel grips in almost every single pair of shoes I own! It’s extremely rare for me to find shoes that fit my duck feet perfectly (& I even have custom-made historical shoes — the cordwainer had to do all kinds of remakes to get them to fit bec. I told him I’d add heel grips & he couldn’t bear the idea of such a non-historical addition).

    Heel grips do exactly as the name implies if you have narrow heels — they help your heel grip the shoe better. And the rubbery tan ones you linked, Sal, are the best kind (there’s a soft foam kind, usually in grey, that is awful but seems more common in drugstores). They do work a bit better when wearing tights/hose, as opposed to bare skin. But they’re always better than nothing for my weird feet!

  • Rain

    Hue foot liners have saved my feet from countless blisters. I always wear them with flats, and they also help keep your shoes from getting stinky because of socklessness. Just be sure to get the kind that have a bit of silicon at the heel, as any ones without that will just slip off…
    http://www.amazon.com/HUE-Womens-3-Pack-Hidden-Cotton/dp/B002HJ3DKG

  • I use Skin Prep for rubby areas. Its intended use is to create an invisible protective film on the skin for wound and ostomy care.

  • KL

    Like a few others, I have narrower heels and a wider forefront. Heel grips are wonderful inventions! I also tend to “fudge” fit when I can because I wear a specialty (small) size, and heel grips have transformed many a pair of unwearable size 6 flats.

  • Red

    I’ve always found these Aldo terrycloth shoe inserts to be the best for shoes that are slightly too loose. They mold to your feet, absorb sweat, and are machine-washable so they don’t get smelly and gross! http://www.aldoshoes.com/us/accessories/shoe-care/comfort-fit/40187578-471_073/97

  • Kim_n21

    My feet are not exactly compatible with dressy shoes- my ankle bones are set low, my feet are wide with really narrow heels and they’re over a half-size apart (I fit the larger foot, obviously). I really wish I could find shoes where I *don’t* have to add insoles/heel pads/band-aids to my feet, but I have yet to find a pair of non-sneaker/casual shoes that I can wear without modification. Therefore, I wear a lot of casual sneakers and sandals, because they actually fit my feet comfortably. However, sometimes circumstances dictate that I wear nicer shoes.

    For rubby shoes, I pretty much know where on my feet my shoes will rub, because it’s generally the same places every time. So I put band-aids on my feet on the places that will usually rub: the backs of my heels, because my heels are much, much narrower than the ball of my foot and my little toes. It lasts much longer than blister block or Body Glide, and they’re easier to get on and thinner than moleskin. They don’t have to be the expensive band-aids, just the basic ones are generally fine, although the fabric ones are more comfortable than the plastic ones.

  • LaChina

    Thanks for the post! I love the Foot Petals Tip/Toe cushions, they keep my feet from sliding all over the place with flat sandals. I’ve never had much luck with stretching my shoes, I even tried the baggies/freezer idea, and it didn’t work for me.

    What drives me nuts are the noisy/squeaky shoes, you can’t really hear them in the store or when you’re out and about, but try walking around a quiet office. Urgg. I took a beautiful pair of pumps to the shoe repair hoping they could fix, and $20 later still noisy.

  • Lydia

    I also highly recommend hue or any other brand of foot liners — I nearly always wear a foot liner even in the summer. I have super sensitive skin accompanied by super fussy feet that can be painful to walk on.

    The sandals I wear during summer are clark’s unstructured, and I wear them with a hue liner (looks like panty hose cuff). This saves me blisters. Also, straps on sandals simply butcher my skin, and I actually apply the moleskin to the actual sandal strap, and replenish them often — I spend evenings sticking the moleskin on, and I have extras in my purse for emergencies. I also add moleskin to my skin, but prefer to add it on the actual straps of the shoe. I also use medical tape (the one used to seal wound bandages), and place the tape on the inside of straps of the sandals. I wish it was easier for me to buy and wear shoes, but it takes ages to find a foot friendlly shoe, and one that will not butcher my skin!

  • Litenarata

    The moles part killed me. SO funny!
    “they must be fun to rub” hahahaha

  • I’m a big fan of the insoles Aldo sells. They’re just simple things, but they’re so comfortable. And you can throw them in the washing machine when they get dirty. Although I don’t recommend the dryer.

  • Rachel

    1. Don’t use stretching liquid. It’s just rubbing alcohol. Expensive rubbing alcohol.

    2. Stretching: Get a broom, and stick the handle into the shoe. Position it at the tight spot. With the bristles on the floor, pull down on the shoe so that the broom handle pushes up at the tight spot. This works really well!

  • Sarah

    Blister Band-aids!! I also use them when headed to a conference and i end up wearing dress shoes longer than usual…or i just keep some spares in my purse. They can come from several different brands but I’ve found for me the Band-Aid brand works the best for me!

    http://www.walgreens.com/store/c/band-aid-advanced-healing-blister-cushions/ID=prod392263-product

  • Cinco

    Sugru has saved a few favorite pairs of shoes that had developed small issues (holes, rough spots on the inside of the heel, exposed bits of stitching. I also used it to reinforce all of my iPod and cell phone cords!

  • Diana

    An old military trick that works for shoes that are 1) leather, 2) sewn, not glued, and 3) a little tight all over. Put on a pair of thin cotton socks, then put on your tight shoes. VERY briefly, dunk your feet, one at a time, in a bucket of water (this is a quick wet, not a long soak). Let your shoes dry on your cotton-socked feet. You can walk carefully (because you’re wearing wet shoes) or just sit in an easy chair and read. The damp leather will stretch a bit and conform to your socked feet. It usually gives me a tiny bit of stretch.

  • Ummm, Sal those shoes are happening. They look beautiful. I love the suggestions. A little lotion, footsies or stockings cures is a great alternative to blister block.

  • Melanie

    I saw on a website once to spray hairspray on the bottom and sides of feet for shoes that slip. I tried it once and it worked for a little while.